Mintzberg's 5 Ps for Strategy

The word "strategy" has been used implicitly in different ways even if it has traditionally been defined in only one. Explicit recognition of multiple definitions can help people to manoeuvre through this difficult field. Mintzberg provides five definitions of strategy:

  • Plan
  • Ploy
  • Pattern
  • Position
  • Perspective.


Strategy is a plan - some sort of consciously intended course of action, a guideline (or set of guidelines) to deal with a situation. By this definition strategies have two essential characteristics: they are made in advance of the actions to which they apply, and they are developed consciously and purposefully.



As plan, a strategy can be a ploy too, really just a specific manoeuvre intended to outwit an opponent or competitor.



If strategies can be intended (whether as general plans or specific ploys), they can also be realised. In other words, defining strategy as plan is not sufficient; we also need a definition that encompasses the resulting behaviour: Strategy is a pattern - specifically, a pattern in a stream of actions. Strategy is consistency in behaviour, whether or not intended. The definitions of strategy as plan and pattern can be quite independent of one another: plans may go unrealised, while patterns may appear without preconception.


Plans are intended strategy, whereas patterns are realised strategy; from this we can distinguish deliberate strategies, where intentions that existed previously were realised, and emergent strategies where patterns developed in the absence of intentions, or despite them.



Strategy is a position - specifically a means of locating an organisation in an "environment". By this definition strategy becomes the mediating force, or "match", between organisation and environment, that is, between the internal and the external context.



Strategy is a perspective - its content consisting not just of a chosen position, but of an ingrained way of perceiving the world. Strategy in this respect is to the organisation what personality is to the individual. What is of key importance is that strategy is a perspective shared by members of an organisation, through their intentions and / or by their actions. In effect, when we talk of strategy in this context, we are entering the realm of the collective mind - individuals united by common thinking and / or behaviour.



  • Henry Mintzberg, California Management Review, Fall 1987
  • Henry Mintzberg, "Five Ps for Strategy" in The Strategy Process, pp 12-19, H Mintzberg and JB Quinn eds., 1992, Prentice-Hall International Editions, Englewood Cliffs NJ.



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